Enrich Your Cat’s Inner Hunter
Cat domestication is vastly different than dog domestication. Dogs and other animals like horses and sheep were bred and trained to help serve the working needs of humans as part of their domestication. Whereas cats, being just cats, served human needs! They did not have to be trained or bred a certain way.
Ancient grain storage attracted rodents, and what do rodents attract? Cats! They’re natural pest control, so our ancient human ancestors welcomed cats into their villages. The cats hunted them, preventing the grains from being destroyed, and the cats’ bellies were kept full. It was a winning relationship.
Most interesting is that this instinctual need to hunt has never left cats, despite domestication. We wanted cats to be hunters thousands of years ago, and they’re still hunters today. There is very little difference behaviorally and biologically between our cats today and the cats in ancient human times.
What does that mean for us as cat parents? It means that it is part of our cat’s instinctual and natural behavior to hunt. Without these hunting opportunities, our cats can become bored, frustrated, and stressed, which can manifest in problem behavior like play aggression and destructive behavior.
Before I lose you here, I’m not suggesting that you get some mice and let them loose in your house for your cat! Instead, I want to offer you two easy and fun ways to engage your cat’s hunting prowess that doesn’t involve live prey.
“Prey-Play”- This is an interactive form of play that you can engage in with your cat. My favorite way to do prey-play is to use a fishing-pole-style toy with your cat. My favorite is “DaBird” it has a feather attachment on the end. Use this toy to mimic moments of real prey, don’t just swish it around your cat’s face. Would real prey ever run straight up to a predator? No way! Manipulate the pole to have the attachment scurry across the floor and peek around furniture. Watch your cat, stalk, chase, pounce, and catch the “prey.” When your cat has successfully caught their “prey,” end the play session with a meal or high-value treat. For more tips on prey-play, check my handout with a step-by-step guide.
Food Puzzles– Cats naturally would hunt and forage for food, so creating challenging and engaging ways to eat is very rewarding for your cat. Food puzzles provide your cat with this opportunity, where they often have to dig for their food, lick if off a mat, or push it through a maze. Foodpuzzlesforcats.com is an excellent resource for learning more about food puzzles and all the different types available. Some simple options for food puzzles are using an ice cube tray or egg carton and placing some of their food in there. If you want to make it even more fun, take one of those Amazon boxes you have laying around, crumple up some packing paper into it, and then toss in a few pieces of kibble or cat treats into the box. Viola, you’ve created a foraging box for your cat.
These are just two of many engaging ways to enrich your cat’s inner hunter. These types of activities should be a part of your cat’s daily activities. I challenge you to try a “prey-play” session at least once a day and maybe switch out the standard food bowl for a food puzzle for one of your cat’s meals. I’m confident your cat will love you for it!
Stephanie Merlin is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and Educator and owner of The Fulfilled Feline in Orlando, Florida. The Fulfilled Feline’s focus is helping to educate people to understand their cats better to build more fulfilling connections with them. Additionally, Stephanie has been a volunteer with the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando since 2013. The Fulfilled Feline offers in-home and virtual behavior consultants as well as online workshops and webinars on cat behavior. To learn more, please visit The Fulfilled Feline website and Instagram. To get in touch with Stephanie, she can be reached at email@example.com